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Local ACLU Appeals for Legal Assistance to Challenge Camping Ban

by Steve Pleich (
ACLU of Northern California Considering Request for Legal Resources
October 9, 2015

To: Michael Risher

Staff Attorney

ACLU of Northern California

Re: Allocation of Affiliate Legal Resources

I am writing at the request of the Santa Cruz County Chapter to urge the ACLU of Northern California to consider allocating available legal resources to challenge the existing camping and sleeping bans in the City of Santa Cruz which continue to criminalize people experiencing homelessness in our community.

Initially, we note that the ACLU Foundation of Southern California in the case of Glover v. City of Laguna and more recently in American Civil Liberties Union of Florida v. City if Sarasota, Florida have commenced actions to challenge the camping bans in those municipalities on the basis of, inter alia, a violation of the Eighth Amendment proscription against cruel and unusual punishment. In our opinion, even in light of the dismissal of the Bell v. City of Boise action, the question of whether enforcement of camping bans in cities where the available emergency shelter space is insufficient to provide shelter to the number of homeless individuals in that city criminalizes homelessness on the basis of “status” in violation of the Eight Amendment continues to be ripe for adjudication. We are asking that the Northern California affiliate engage on this issue on behalf of the homeless in Santa Cruz because the situation in our community presents substantively relevant and procedurally actionable facts on which such an action could be successfully based.

The City of Santa Cruz has one of the highest per capita homeless populations in the country. Fully 1,500 of our approximately 60,000 residents are chronically homeless or continue to experience significant period of homelessness on a continuing basis. More distressing still is the wholly inadequate availability of emergency shelter space. Indeed, the already insufficient number of emergency beds (approximately 300) has this year alone been reduced by 150 beds due to a shift in federal and state funding priorities. Moreover, our city government has been wholly unresponsive to the need for emergency shelter even in the face of the recently released Santa Cruz County Grand Jury report which roundly criticized both the city and county for the paucity of shelter space and the lack of commitment to provide funding for emergency shelters of any kind.

Advocates for people experiencing homeless have been conducting weekly Community Sleepout protests at Santa Cruz City Hall to demand that the City Council revise or completely repeal their decades-old camping ban in light of the Statement of interest filed by the United States Department of Justice in the Boise case. The council remains unwilling to consider any revision of the ordinance and the continuing actions, though gaining increasing support, seem unlikely to move council to action. The Santa Cruz County Chapter of the ACLU has issued a Statement of Support for these actions and believes that a federal court action challenging the camping ban would have a reasonable likelihood of success on the merits and create the legal foundation for the issuance of a Preliminary Injunction restraining the operation of the ordinance pending disposition of the main case.

Know that it is not only the Santa Cruz County Chapter that makes this appeal. Local activists, some of whom sit on our local board, and the homeless community itself, 84% of whom were Santa Cruz residents at the time they became homeless, are looking to us and to you for support in this time of trial. We have an unparalleled opportunity to forever change the landscape of homelessness in our community. I am sure you will agree with us that the daily and continuing criminalization of people experiencing homelessness on the basis of status clearly constitutes justice denied. We ask your help so that the justice they so richly deserve will not much longer be delayed.

Steve Pleich
Vice Chair, Board of Directors
ACLU of Northern California
Santa Cruz County Chapter

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Mon, Oct 19, 2015 11:34AM
Sun, Oct 18, 2015 3:47PM
Just Sayin
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John Cohen-Colby
Sat, Oct 17, 2015 1:47PM
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Razer Ray
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Fri, Oct 16, 2015 3:34PM
TBSC Members are NOT Locals
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 2:25PM
That's bullshit
Fri, Oct 16, 2015 2:14PM
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